I'll give my bona fides up front: I am a longtime TNC reader, first-time commenter, working comedian in the Bay Area, and sexual assault survivor. The rape joke issue is old hat to women in standup -- the idea that 'rape jokes' are an edgy or unique category of comedy is belied by the fact that just about EVERY comic I know, male or female, has at least one in their repertoire. I have one about the casual use of the word 'rape' in other cultural contexts, and another about how I stopped going to church after I got raped by a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm OK with CK's joke, although I also agree with the letter writer.
Much of comedy is about context. There are jokes I tell in San Francisco that might get me run out of a club on the road; there are jokes I can tell in Oakland that I can't tell in San Francisco, and vice versa -- maybe 'can't tell' is overstating the case, but different jokes work in different contexts.
I've told jokes about race in San Francisco that have made me feel uncomfortable and irresponsible when an all-white audience laughs, because I wonder if they understand everything that's going on underneath the punchline. Similarly, CK's joke can probably play well in some areas, and leave him walking off the stage feeling like he just gave cover and comfort to rapists in others. This is the nature of comedy; audiences are not universal and we can't control for what they'll bring to a show.
That being said, thoughtfulness is always important, even in comedy. Comics only become good comics when their jokes are rigorous and well-tested -- it sounds completely antithetical to everything about comedy, but where CK and Morgan differ is that cruelty isn't a punchline. It can be part of a punchline, but there has to be something SURPRISING about it. Jokes operate on surprise. Although I agree with the letter-writer about rape culture, it is nonetheless improper in polite society to offer such open justification about rape; to most people it's surprising to actually hear, even if it is something lurking in all kinds of cultural shadows, even if some people will find literal validation of their own evil within it.
Conversely, ranting about gay people just isn't that surprising in many places, particularly in TN. I heard from a few friends who saw Morgan's show in SF and said that he did the same bit and got laughs -- maybe because in San Francisco, hearing an over-the-top anti-gay rant is surprising. In most of the country, however, that's not true.
Oh, and to the folks justifying Tracy Morgan by saying they heard he was just 'working out' new material: no, he wasn't. Comics 'work out' new material at open mics -- even the biggest names swing by open mics to drop new jokes -- and tiny clubs in New York and LA where they're amongst other comics who can critique them. They DO NOT work out new material whilst on national tour in front of audiences who have paid top dollar to see them. Being a comedian might seem like a barrel of monkeys, but it's a professional craft and performance like any other.
What I like about this comment is that it points to the fluid nature, across geography, of comedy. But there's also a fluidity across time.
I was, early on, extremely offended by Chis Rock's "Niggers vs. Black People" routine. I read it through an overly-political lens, which, I now think, says more about me than about the joke. My sense was that Rock conveniently papered over the ease with which black people are turned into "niggers" and vice versa. It struck me as ghetto snobbery. (I can't find the video, but I believe that's what Rock called it himself during a 60 Minutes interview.)
I now think it's a rather deft exploration of a real tension that exists among black that is tied to class, but shouldn't be understood as such. No one resents crime more than the people who live with it regularly. I also think that it was riff on the kind of tensions that virtually all people exhibit. Talk to some old heads in Chicago and they'll insist that the early black folks who came up during the Great Migration were of a better stock--hard workers, employable etc. The folks who came up in the 50s were the criminals, the unskilled and the layabouts.
It's also exhibited in white people's own tension over identity reflected in slurs like "white trash" or "redneck." I don't know much about Jews, Latinos and Asian-Americans, but I'd be shocked if it wasn't, in some way, there among them too. In short, far from denigrating, I thought the riff was incredibly humanizing in that it showed black people struggling with the same sort of identity problems that plague all groups.
Politics has an important relationship to art, but its a bad idea to read it as rote political theory. Did the act reflect some of Rock's actual feelings? I'm sure there's some of him in there. But that's the beauty of it. "I love black people, but I hate niggers," says something about us, perhaps something not so pretty, and yet beautiful. It certainly reflected some of my own frustrated private thoughts.(I really related to the "Can you kick my ass?!?!!" at the end.)
I understand why Rock stopped performing that joke--it feels like a riff made for a house full of black people. The trouble is that it's quite funny, and humor evinces little respect for our boundaries. Though I wish it were different, I can't say that I offer my full, unvarnished thoughts on black people here. I give quite a bit. But to coin a phrase, this is not a safe space for me or anyone else. We are family--but we kinda aren't.
Black poverty is fundamentally distinct from white poverty—and so cannot be addressed without grappling with racism.
There have been a number of useful entries in the weeks since Senator Bernie Sanders declared himself against reparations. Perhaps the most clarifying comes from Cedric Johnson in a piece entitled, “An Open Letter To Ta-Nehisi Coates And The Liberals Who Love Him.” Johnson’s essay offers those of us interested in the problem of white supremacy and the question of economic class the chance to tease out how, and where, these two problems intersect. In Johnson’s rendition, racism, in and of itself, holds limited explanatory power when looking at the socio-economic problems which beset African Americans. “We continue to reach for old modes of analysis in the face of a changed world,” writes Johnson. “One where blackness is still derogated but anti-black racism is not the principal determinant of material conditions and economic mobility for many African Americans.”
As Coldplay blandly strained for the universal, she and Bruno Mars pulled off something more specific and more daring.
What a perfect Beyoncésong name: “Formation.” All great pop involves people acting in formation. So does all great change. And while fans scream that Beyoncé’s a “queen” and “goddess,” her core appeal really is as a drill sergeant. With Beyoncé in command, greatness is scalable, achievable, for the collective. Everyone waves their hands to the same beat. Everyone walks around like they have hot sauce in their bag.
But in pop and in politics, “everyone” is a loaded term. Stars as ubiquitous as Beyoncé have haters, the “albino alligators” who “Formation” informs us she twirls upon. And in a more general historical sense, “everyone” can be a dangerous illusion that elevates one point of view as universal while minimizing others. Beyoncé gets all of this, it seems. As a pop star, she surely wants to have as broad a reach as possible. But as an artist, she has a specific message, born of a specific experience, meaningful to specific people. Rather than pretend otherwise, she’s going to make art about the tension implied by this dynamic. She’s going to show up to Super Bowl with a phalanx of women dressed as Black Panthers.
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.
Humbled by his struggling presidential campaign, can the once-mighty New Jersey governor vault back into contention after Saturday’s debate?
SALEM, New Hampshire—Chris Christie was accustomed to being a big man: a man of stature, a man of power, a man who demands and gets his way.
But recently, the big man (this is a description of his personality, not his size) was seeming awfully small.
On Friday evening here, the governor of New Jersey was desperately trying to talk some sense into the people of New Hampshire, a couple hundred of whom had come out to see him on a snowy night. The night before, Christie’s rival Marco Rubio had played the same venue, filling a larger room of the elementary school beyond its capacity. Christie was begging the crowd not to pile on the bandwagon of the apparent winner, but instead, to show some courage.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
A photo series reveals what expectant mothers in various countries bring with them to the hospital.
For most expecting mothers in the Western world, a hospital bag is something that makes the birthing process marginally more comfortable. You’ve just brought a new being into the world; you deserve to wear your own sweatpants.
But in some parts of the world, hospitals are so bare-bones that women in labor must tote everything with them, from rubber gloves to water pans to gauze.
To draw attention to the difficulty of giving birth in regions where water is scarce, the organization WaterAid recently dispatched photographers to ask expecting and brand-new moms in various countries to open up their hospital bags. Here are their photos, as well as lightly edited interviews with the moms conducted by WaterAid.
Will the Democratic Party nominate a candidate who hasn’t been a member of their party, and who has long denounced it?
When a party chooses its presidential candidate, it also chooses its party leader in the election. This year the Democrats face an unusual situation. Bernie Sanders isn’t just an outsider to the party establishment; he’s not even been a member of the party, and has long excoriated it in unsparing language. Although the media haven’t much focused on this history, the early signs suggest it could become a problem for Sanders in getting the nomination—and a problem for the party if he does get it.
According to the entrance polls at the Iowa caucuses, there was a 30-percentage-point split between self-identified Democrats and independents in their support for Sanders. Hillary Clinton won 56 percent of self-identified Democrats but only 26 percent of independents, while Sanders won only 39 percent of Democrats but 69 percent of independents.
Tracking them down is a globe-trotting adventure that rivals any jungle expedition.
In the darkness of the Akeley Hall of Mammals, swarms of kids gawk at beautifully staged dioramas of Africa’s wildlife. The stuffed safari, nestled in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, includes taxidermied leopards stalking a bush pig, preserved ostriches strutting in front of warthogs, and long-dead baboons cautiously considering a viper. In one corner, in a display marked “Upper Nile Region,” a lone hippo grazes next to a herd of lechwe, roan antelope, and a comically stern shoebill stork.
“This is my favorite one,” says Evon Hekkala, pointing to the display. “There’s a taxidermied crocodile tucked away down there.”
It takes a while to spot it and I have to crane my head to do so, but yes, there it is—a large crocodile, in the back, mouth agape, next to the hippo. It’s mostly hidden from view, and until recently, it was hidden from science, too.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.